Monday, February 29, 2016

How to afford extra-curricular activities for your kids

When our kids were really young, we weren't that concerned about extra-curricular activities. We would request annual passes to the zoo birthday presents and got more than enough interaction for our kids. As they get older, however, we are being introduced to the expensive realities of organized activities for kids. Even in a state where the cost-of-living is generally low, the fees can quickly add up with multiple children.

We are pretty committed to simplicity when it comes to extra-curricular activities, but we also have high-energy kids who are homeschooled and need outlets and opportunities to learn new skills and interact with other children. Today I would like to share what has worked for our family, and hopefully provide you with some new ideas and opportunities as well.

Annual passes to local museums - Some may shrink at the idea of an $80 pass to a children's discovery center or zoo, but I have always enjoyed the change of pace we get from walking around a well-landscaped park with animals to observe, or a developmentally-rich center that boasts an outdoor woodland area, bike-houses that have all kinds of vehicles we could never afford, and an indoor center with every building set imaginable. Paying $80 seems small when you have access to so many different resources that you don't have to purchase yourself (and it also cuts down on clutter!). As I mentioned before, sometimes we use birthday money from relatives to purchase these passes, but we also find it worth spending our own money on.

Online courses for a monthly fee
I learned about Creativebug last year, which is an online craft course website that has over 600 different courses taught by nationally recognized artists in their fields. There are Wilton cake classes, introductory sewing and quilting classes, watercolor and drawing classes, and more! They are currently offering a free month's subscription to try it out, but at the full-price rate of $4.95/month, it is also a deal. There are even some free classes here that are worth trying out.

You only have to subscribe for one month at a time, and for every month you subscribe, you get to have access to a class that is yours forever, even if you discontinue your subscription. I am currently not subscribed because I don't have time to do it right now (many of the high-quality courses are a few hours long), but when I was subscribed I downloaded some cool classes like pattern drafting, which hopefully will help me sew more of my own clothes.

Joseph Hoffman
Another great online resource is the Hoffman Academy, an online series of piano lessons for children. With our budget right now, we simply cannot afford piano lessons for our kids, but I stumbled upon this wonderful free Youtube video series. It is run by Joseph Hoffman, a piano teacher in Portland, Oregon who had a vision for providing free piano lessons to people across the world. You can also purchase the accompanying course materials for a small fee per unit, and this fall, he will be rolling out his intermediate level courses and launching a subscription service which gives access to interactive games and monitoring that build music reading skills and more. I signed up for his Kickstarter campaign last week which secured us a year's worth of subscriptions for less than half the price of the normal rate. His Kickstarter campaign ends March 10, so be sure to check it out soon if you are interested. My kids have loved watching his videos and are eager to do the practices he recommends on the piano (and for those curious, I am not an affiliate of this program - I just love what he does and the opportunity it provides for others who are financially-strapped).

Parks and recreation programs  + scholarships

I would be remiss to not mention your local Parks and Recreation. Our son is not yet ready for competitive baseball, so we have found our Parks and Recreation programs to be more than enough for him at $40 a season. This year, my husband is coaching my son's team which will waive his fee.

Even better, we qualified for scholarships for all three of our children which allowed us to get 2-week swimming classes for our 3 boys at $25 per child this summer.

What about you? Are there ways you have found to involve your kids in extra-curricular activities without breaking the bank? With four kids, I'd love to hear more in the comments!


  1. Hello! I'm not a mom, but was the oldest in a large homeschool family. Today we visited my parents and got to see some of my younger siblings. I've got three teenage brothers that play musical instruments, but only the youngest pays for piano lessons. For years my second brother took violin lessons as a boy and never got very far. I'm talking $30 a month, 9 months out of the year... so probably $800+ sunk into a skill that he essentially forgot. In the last year he picked up ukelele on his own, and now as a 14-year-old he's reteaching himself violin... for free.

    I think one of the best ways to encourage music/artistic ability is to immerse your kids in that culture. My parents paid a LOT for music lessons for us, but in my husband's family the kids teach themselves for free and the musicianship is just as good. Why? Because everyone wants to join the family band.

    I'm not sure if this "peer pressure" theory works with sports or other extracurricular activities, but it's worth a try.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing!

  2. Like you, we wanted our 4 sons to have the chance to be part of activities and experiences but we often didn't have the extra money. Some things that worked for us:
    1. Scouts. There are costs involved - such as camping fees or fees to cover supplies/expenses toward merit badges - but we found those costs minimal when compared to the overall experiences. Three of the four are Eagle Scouts.
    2. Happy Meals. Son #2 had more energy than the other three combined. Sometimes it was well worth it to buy a $3.00 Happy Meal and give him the 1-2 hour outlet that the play area at McDonald's supplied.
    3. In our area, there are quite a number of museums that have free days, including the Children's Museum. It would get quite crowded there during those free hours, but even other museums like a health museum (my science-nut's favorite) had certain hours that were free.
    4. Fishing/crabbing/going to the beach. We live on the Gulf Coast, and while fishing and hunting licenses cost money, you can use them as often as you're able. Sometimes you even get dinner from this - we love fresh fish:)
    5. Getting together with other families for picnics or potluck dinners.
    6. I don't know if it's still around today, but there was a $1.00 movie theater we went to on occasion. While the movies were not first-run, they'd still show plenty of kid movies that we enjoyed.
    7. Playing in the rain. Oh how they loved getting absolutely filthy from mud doing this!
    8. Vacation Bible School. One son commented once that this was his favorite week of the summer.
    9. A tree house. In the backyard of our previous house were several large trees. My husband built a tree house in one of them, and the two oldest boys especially had incredible adventures in there, often playing Davy Crockett with their coonskin hats. I miss those days!
    10. Concerts in the park. Each May and June our community park hosts free music concerts, with a variety of bands playing each Friday night. While the boys weren't always interested in the music as much as my husband and I, they did like the snacks or picnic supper I took and the nearby playground.

    That's really neat that the activity fee was waived in exchange for your husband's involvement. What memories they'll be able to make:)

    1. Thanks for all of the great ideas :). I have one of those high-energy sons too :). I hadn't even thought of the dollar theater, and it reminded me of a summer program our library has where they show movies for free. I think fishing is free for kids too in our state - now I need to go and add more things to my list! :)


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